The sky above is clouded steel, a textured reflection of the dark, wet ribbon that carries me home. Together they cut a path for me through a tree world so yellow it must be painted. Somewhere beyond my sight, the sky breaks. I can’t see the beam that ricochets between steely cover and cement ribbon but the trees breathe it in and now they glow from inside of themselves. Everything glows. And drips. Above me, pure winter. Beside me, pure gold. And I see it all through the strobe of my windshield wipers as I leave this little town after my month-long rural family practice rotation.
My time in the Ft. St. James rural family medicine program was resoundingly positive and plain hard. Honestly, I just didn’t know anything. I can laugh about it (and I did, often), but…seriously. Seriously. Yes, I know that I am still a learner. Frankly it is just a tiring role to live in.
Hard, humiliating, but of course…these are good times. Everything in the world feels new and shiny. Ear, sinus, lung and kidney infections are exciting for me. I got to see it all. In small towns doctors do everything. I would work in the clinic by day. By night I would frequently do my studying at the hospital so that I wouldn’t miss the smallest of things that came in. I loved the hospital in the evenings. The most difficult thing for me to learn was that there are no short cuts. Don’t cut corners by leaving parts of your physical exam out when you are trying to save time. Just get faster at doing all of the important things… this seemed to take me forever to learn. Every time I skipped a detail, this was the detail that mattered. It took twice as long to go back and get it while my preceptor would wait for me to call back. In the end, I think I learned.
The Ft. St. James clinic may be home to the most gracious group of physicians accepting students ANYWHERE in British Columbia. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of my head preceptor, Dr. Anthon Meyer, because he left early for a conference. Dr. Meyer was tough. He sets a high bar. He wasn’t unreasonable. He didn’t expect things of me that were beyond my ability. I like bars set high. I gravitate toward people who are uncompromising because I’m comfortable with them. Dr. Meyer was this type of person. His clinic in Ft. St. James was an amazingly cohesive and unified team. Part of it may have been the small-town dynamic. Part of it may have been the unique business plan they operate within. But whatever it was, the patients in this clinic get the most uncompromising, comprehensive care. I found myself in tearful frustration one day when I fell short on something that was within my reach, but I loved this place because the doctors never gave up on me. Each day there was like my first day. They treated me with respect and expected me to bring my best effort. Every medical student has a ‘style’ of doctor they identify with. Dr. Meyer’s style might not be for every student (or maybe it would), but it was definitely for me. If ever you find yourself in my care, I hope I live up to the standard he sets. Thank you for setting the bar high, Dr. Meyer.
I was scheduled most frequently with Dr. Pieter (above right), an excellent and smart young doctor from South Africa. (Truthfully, I found all of the physicians here to be exceptionally good). He amazingly never tired of asking me questions that a doctor should know the answer to. I didn’t know any of the answers. Everyday I was afraid that I would show up and he would have given up, switching to explanations instead of questions, but every day he would just patiently start with new questions. It was incredible how much I learned over the month.
Dr. Steyn (above left) started the same day as me. I didn’t really get to work with him except a call-in shift in the emergency department because he was getting settled in himself, but he was just such a wonderful person and an excellent doctor. In South Africa he had a game farm where you could hunt the usual – you know, zebras etc. He was so excited to be in rural British Columbia for this stage of his career and he had a wealth of experience. Every time I saw him I couldn’t help smiling.
I was also scheduled frequently with Dr. Pieter’s lovely wife, Dr. Marile (above). She is expecting their first baby and probably had one thousand things she would rather be doing than babysitting a medical student but each day she would pick a thoughtful teaching point and take extra time to gently go through it in detail with me. She is a wonderful doctor who takes time to explain things to her patients as well. (And she had great maternity clothes).
Dr. Vidushi (above left) was on holidays for 2 of my four weeks and I have to say I am sorry for that because our few shifts together were so fun. She sings. She’s a singing doctor. She sings everything. She sings 90’s hip hop and Indian lullabies. I love her.
Students sometimes rent the guest cottage on the property of Dr. Stent (above right) and his wife. This now semi-retired physician has served this community for decades at times as the only single physician for months at a time. This beautiful man won the lifetime achievement award at the Bob Ewert memorial dinner last year. I was thrilled to work several shifts with him.
I only got a single shift with Dr. Lauren (and sadly no picture) – my loss. She completed most of an obstetrics residency before deciding on rural family practice and she had fantastic energy.
And the charming clinic staff… 🙂
I am content as I make my way home from this little community through an autumn wonderland. Good-bye, little town on the big lake. Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful experience. I hope I can come back when I have more to offer and less to take. For now, I will return to the new home my husband has been building for 2 years on Chief Lake and the family I love best..
Up next…. 6 weeks of Obstetrics and Gynecology!